One of the magical qualities of a word is its ability to defy definitions. The world is full of dictionaries, and we use those dictionaries to help us understand words. Yet no dictionary ever quite captures every nuance of the meaning of a word. The magnificent human mind exceeds the ability of words to transmit our richest meanings. Dictionaries help us, and we constantly tweak the dictionaries to assure that they get closer to the truth. Yet the meaning of a single word in human speech in any language is never exactly what we think it is.
Take equality, for example.
That word has a storied past, rich in service for the good of mankind. Yet, as soon as you read the word mankind in my sentence, many of you will flinch at the gender implications of the word and wonder if I am insensitive or simply ignorant. Women around the world have fought for gender equality, yet I, a woman, use the word mankind to speak of all human beings! The uproar surrounding the use of the word mankind is precisely the sort of uproar that surrounds the use of the word equality, yet those who protest its misuse and abuse are rarely heard above the cacophony of campaigns and agendas to achieve equality according to a definition that has been severely warped.
The word equality used in mathematics has an undisputed meaning. For example: 2+2=4 because mathematically speaking, no other answer is possible. Equations use symbols for mathematical concepts and measurements, and an equation states an equality that can be verified in the physical world: E=mc2. Mathematical equalities are truly equal to the last decimal point. Using such equalities allows architects to design skyscrapers that do not fall down, rocket scientists to put men on the moon, and homemakers to bake angel food cakes. There is no dispute about what equality means in mathematics.
Not so in the world of political and social justice. In these realms, which have merged into a single bitter stew in recent years, the meaning of the word equality depends entirely on the usage of the speaker or writer. It is not at all uncommon to hear an argument in which two people use the word equality with equal fervency to mean two completely different things.
Why do Christians care? We care, because each of us lives in that bitter stew every day. The social and political changes being proposed and even wrought in the name of equality blindside us daily. We must be prepared to address these issues, because the changes affect our lives in profound ways. The agendas which use the word equality to advance their causes are changing the face of our culture in ways most of us could not have imagined as recently as June of 2008.
Less than two weeks ago, the Supreme Court announced that it will hear two cases that will include a great deal of rhetoric using the word equality. One case looks at the federal Defense of Marriage Act, while the other examines a state act, California’s Proposition 8. Both cases center on the meaning of the word marriage, but the thrust of the arguments will likely be that both acts breach the concept of equality before the law.
This post will not address the issues of defining the word marriage, but the use of the term equality has been the most subtle part of the campaign to lead our culture to accept the idea that two people of the same gender can marry. The term equality coupled with the word marriage has slipped under the radar of a lot of people. Gay marriage may sound offensive to some ears, but who can argue with the idea of marriage equality? The use of this term implies that the definition of marriage is not the issue. The campaign to legitimize the concept that a union of two people of the same gender is a marriage has leaped over the definition of marriage altogether and seized upon something almost everyone admires – equality. Even religious leaders who might have previously choked at the idea of a wedding of two men or two women have swallowed the idea of marriage equality.
The deep basis for using the term equality yoked with the word marriage is to lead the argument down the path of civil rights. In this context, the word equality is used to invoke the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution. It seizes upon the phrase “equal protection of the laws” as a basis for arguing that homosexuals are being denied “equal protection of the laws.” (The argument for “equal protection” also requires acceptance of an unfounded assertion that science has proved that homosexuality is congenital rather than a choice. This post does not encompass the refutation of that argument, but this writer rejects the hypotheses offered in lieu of actual proof.) This argument only has meaning if the definition of marriage has been changed. No such change has taken place, but by focusing on equality, the whole argument assumes a common agreement on the definition of marriage. If the proposition of equality is agreed upon, the definition of marriage is transformed as the inevitable consequence of equality.
In the realm of Christian faith, the word equality likewise sidesteps the issue of the Bible’s teachings about marriage and sexuality. Before the throne of God we are all equally sinful. What made homosexuals more sinful than anyone else? Those who willingly accept speculation in place of real science will assert that if homosexuality is congenital, then God created some people homosexual and some people left-handed. If that is true, then Christians who reject homosexuality and homosexual unions, are judging God’s own handiwork and marginalizing people who are simply different. Proponents of marriage equality ask, did God really say that homosexuality was wrong? (Do you hear Satan in the Garden of Eden whispering to Eve, “Did God say …?”) Some Christians actually believe that humans have learned so much about science and human relationships that they have outgrown the Bible. In the name of marriage equality they absorb contemporary social and political agendas and assert that we must not discriminate against homosexuals who want to marry like everybody else. God loves homosexuals, too.
Of course he does. He loved the thief on the cross. He loves murderers on death row. We are, indeed all equally sinful in his eyes. We are all saved by grace through Christ. But this salvation does not justify theft, murder, or perversion of God’s highest institutions. The biblical teaching that marriage is a time/space copy of the eternal/infinite relationship between God and his church cannot be simply ignored by redefining our universal unrighteousness before God.
Satan must be very happy about this. Satan is always pleased when human beings believe any lie. The lie that our equality before God as sinners one and all means that God blesses and honors a form of union that he universally rejects throughout the Bible is hard to accept. Can we really believe that Scripture is our divinely inspired source for guidance in all areas of faith and life and still believe that God just made a mistake when he proscribed homosexuality. Did God think ancient writers and readers could not handle the truth? Or worse, do we believe he merely failed to give us a complete revelation? Did God simply mess up?
Equality is a wonderful thing, but just like the gift of sexuality, it can be perverted. Every Christian must engage in the disciplines that nourish a mature faith and pray for deep discernment in order to see the many ways Satan daily contrives to deceive us about the truth. The deceptive manipulation of the meaning of the word equality is only one example.